Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vole in the underworld– London Wetland Centre, Barnes

Saturday November 22, 2008:
A chill wind blows across the lakes. “Twitchers”, wrapped in layered camouflage stand at various points gazing through binoculars. We walk down tarmacked paths between waterways in search of reeds. There are many, but I am being choosy.

Carefully, I step into the reed bed. Beneath my feet, the dry stalks crackle scratchily as I ease my way in. When I am satisfied that I am surrounded I stand still and wait, listening, smelling the air, turning my face to meet the warmth of the winter sun.

I burrow busily along. The great “trees” are slender and wave as though to say, “get along with you” as I scurry past. Nose to the ground, I sniff inquisitively, searching, always searching.

The water’s edge comes upon me suddenly. I stop and peer through the ever-moving stalks to two different ones. Lifting up my head, I see it is a tall crane, standing still and watching me, incurious and patient.

Off it stalks around the water. I know I have to follow. Hurriedly, I scramble after it and as it steps into the water, Dive in and begin to swim. We are heading for an islanding the middle of a lake, an island covered with tall reeds surrounding a big black rock.

But it isn’t a rock, it is a huge black baggy old dog, lying still watching me as I swim. Climbing up onto the island, I begin to sniff around the dog, who turns his head to watch me. Tired at last of my investigations, I creep between his front paws to rest, sheltered from the wind, warmed by his breath and his body and go to sleep.

I am rudely awoken. I seem to be swinging by my neck. It doesn’t hurt but it is very odd. Opening my eyes, I see I am several feet above the ground and in fact, the dog is swimming across the water and must have me by the scruff of my neck. I imagine the great jaws holding me and hope that the dog has eaten!

It is dark now. Unceremoniously I am dumped on the flat mud of another island, this one bare of anything. I curl up shivering in the sharp wind and wonder what I’ve done to deserve this.

Later, much later, when the sky is beginning to silver with the light of a new day, I notice there are reeds at the other end of the little island. I get up stiffly and go to explore them. There is a measure of shelter from the sharp biting wind and I begin to build myself a nest.

But it could also be a boat, I think as I lie in it. I get out again and begin to push it towards the edge of the water, before climbing back in and floating off with the current to whom knows where.

It is restful bobbing along on the water. The expanse of glistening grey shines up to the grey sky and spreads as far away as the eye can see, meeting with the faintest of darker grey lines at what must be the horizon. There is nothing to do but sleep.

The gentlest of bumps wakes me. I am beached on a rocky shore covered with flat grey stones. Standing darker grey against the grey, the crane watches me as I scramble out of my little Bessel and up onto the stones.

I’m sure I have been here before, I think as I scurry after the crane stalking away in front of me. Surely it was leading me to that dark cave mouth between the boulders?

IN side, the cave is dark. A tongue of water left by a retreating sea perhaps encircles a rock and yet again I have to swim. And there, from my vantage point a-top the rock, I see Kwan Yin smiling down at me from the rock face, the lizard on her hat peaking out at me brightly.

And I think as I sit there, what is it that I will die to? What will be transformed? Pondering this, I curl up and go back to sleep.

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